Zee has been farming on farms not his own for 5 years. He is currently working at a farm educational center for youth in Jasper, Alabama.
Jasper, Alabama is one of those places where I wouldn’t see myself, but I’m here. I’ve only been here for about 5 months on and off.
Where I’m currently at started as a summer camp, but now it’s a place where kids can come on their field trips during the school year, too. There is an environmental center and there is the farm school. I work on the farm school side.
Currently I am the garden assistant, so I believe it goes: program director, then the farm manager and then me at least for the vegetable/produce side. We have animals, as well, and we have a livestock assistant. I try to help with crop planning although I don’t get much time to do it.
We have a CSA here, as well! We harvest for that on Wednesday mornings, so I’m typically doing that.
The kids come here, and we have a bunch of different classes that we offer.
We have 3 or 4 core classes called Plant It Earth, Farm Fauna, and Farm To Table. We have a greenhouse and multiple growing spaces – we explain no till and the benefits to that. Farm To Table is our cooking class. Cooking is a big part of working on small farms.
We have 3 or 4 core classes called Plant It Earth, Farm Fauna, and Farm To Table. We have a greenhouse and multiple growing spaces – we explain no till and the benefits to that. Farm To Table is our cooking class.
Cooking is a big part of working on small farms.
We just want kids to know that all these vegetables taste good.
Farm Fauna – we go around to different animals; chickens, pigs and goats and we go over their roles on our farm and little facts about them.
A lot of it is just being outside and trying to get kids to connect with the earth in a different way than they are used to.
My position is seasonal position. 3 months on, 3 months off, 3 months on. It skips the winter season. I’m staying during the summer and then coming back again in the fall.
I’ve been farming since 2016, kind of off and on, just because I was unaware of the options that I had when I was young.
I started farming officially in high school at a teaching farm in Birmingham, Alabama. That was my big introduction to farming as smaller scale and especially educational farming for youth.
I was tricked into farming!
My friend Taylor told me about this culinary club at the school and I love cooking. I went and we made pico de gallo and guacamole and then they said everything we ate today besides the avocados was grown on the farm outside.
We went to the farm and looked at it a couple times and then they asked if anyone would like to work on it during the summer.
I had just moved back to Birmingham and I had no plans and nothing to do so I said I was down to work on the farm for the summer.
Then I got hooked.
There is some program at the high school where I went where you can work a job during a class – instead of being in the class you go to the job and go to work. Luckily the farm got connected with the school system and I was able to do that for that class.
In terms of just pure location, I think I’ve worked on six or seven farms, but all of those except for one was at the teaching farm that had different locations. So I’ve worked for two farm organizations, but a bunch of different kinds of land.
I do have hopes of having my own farm, but definitely not anything major or crazy, more self sustainable and for those close to me.
I don’t need anything super major where I would have to hire people.
I just want to be able to grow my own food and eventually get out of the hellscape that is capitalism but I’ll never be out fully…but just to ease some of that hopefully.
And to own land to set up generational wealth for my kids because that is important to me.
I don’t think I would know what to do with the land if I somehow ended up with land right now. Starting out working for someone else, you can take what other people do and absorb it and apply it if it fits what you’re doing.
Trials and tribulations and all that.
Whenever it’s a bigger organization and it’s people who don’t get their hands in the soil all the time, there is a disconnect where some stuff can happen and some stuff can’t happen.
I’m not going to say it was pressure or anything, but definitely during my first round of farming, it was a lot more presentation based than necessarily results, which at the time definitely confused high school me. I can understand that now, but back then I was definitely confused.
It was that disconnect.
I’ve worked at this farm camp for 5 months total, but coming back in my second season, I feel a big partnership in a lot of the work that we do out here also because I’m very proud of that.
That said, if something happens and you can’t keep working on any said farm and it’s out of your control, it’s a feeling of being ripped away before you are finished.
It’s a big disconnect if you do leave.
If there is an off season, I’m not in the same place as I have been every day doing the work.
I go back to Birmingham in the off season and back to working in the food service industry.
I noticed a big switch up of change in that.
Ideally I wouldn’t want to leave farming when it’s an off season.
It’s not an adjustment as much as it’s just me being bummed.
If I were to have ownership of the farm, I wouldn’t have to leave. I would keep working and do whatever I wanted to do on the farm.
But It’s also that feeling of freedom.
Working on someone else’s farm is a bit more of a freedom than working for your own farm, but that is biased because I’ve never had my own farm.
I don’t touch a lot of stuff that goes on out here.
There is so much that goes on out here that I’m not a part of.
Even in my fantasy, when I have a farm of my own, I also don’t want to be working on that farm …
every day of the week.
I’m very much a social introvert.
Working on a farm with a bunch of people is great, but at the end of the day I want to go home and just sit and be silent, play video games, watch tv. I don’t read books unfortunately, I wish I did, but just have that me-time and not be worried about the farm, and not have it constantly in my mind.
As a worker it’s more like this is what I have to do for this amount of time and then go home. That is a benefit of small farms within an organization. I haven’t worked for just a pure production farm, it’s always been some kind of educational farm that is also a job that has to obey laws.
I work 39 hours here and that’s it.
For a dream farm, I will go with everyone’s favorite: PAY
Unfortunately outdoor work is a lot less valued by general society so there is not too much of an uproar from non-farmers to pay farmers more.
I’m only going to speak about small scale farms – but it’s always underpaid and overworked and that is just America in a nutshell.
Any job that is physically demanding as well as mentally demanding (and I’m not bashing on people sitting in an office all day, I have done that and it’s exhausting and I hated it) should be paying.
Every time I bring someone out here even just to meet these animals they are like, “Oh my god, I have to walk around in the sun?” – that might just be my friend group, but it’s hard work that people don’t realize.
The entertainment industry is so crazy to me because people are making millions upon millions of dollars playing basketball, or making movies, but if you’re working on a farm growing dent corn, you’re wondering if you’re going to have enough money for gas to get out to that farm.
So I would say WE NEED:
My housing that I’m in currently is nothing fancy, but it’s not run down and I’m not actively unhappy with it. There is small stuff, but I can live here comfortably.
Also hopefully access to the food – if I’m growing stuff hopefully I can have access to it. I feel like that is silly if you don’t have access to the food.
A good environment, too.
The teaching farm was in the city of Birmingham and that had advantages and disadvantages.
Jasper is in bumfuck nowhere, nothing around but a Walmart and a bowling alley, but that is also fine.
I’m very flexible with location and I know myself and I know I probably couldn’t work somewhere that is freezing cold, so location is important.
Good people – I don’t want to work on the farm if everyone hates the farm.
Ideally someplace that won’t put off teaching you new things about farming or trying new things. That way I can know what works and doesn’t work and what is different on each farm. Being able to have a teaching moment and not have it be shaming like, ‘oh, you didn’t know that’.
Educational or teaching system in place.
The more the younger generation can learn about farming, the more connected they are to the earth earlier, the better.
Things don’t look so good in our current political world, so when everything blows up and goes BOOM, I’d like to grow some kale and keep it alive.
I farm for the dopamine!
I love being outside!
I love the sun.
I love when it’s cold, overcast!
I just love being outside.
It’s so much more rewarding than any job I have worked at before even if I was making triple what I am making right now.
I would be in an office all day!
In an air conditioned climate controlled office all day?!
I want to be outside.
I want to be sweaty and I want to be cold.
I love doing physical labor. I like doing physical work rather than calling somebody or clacking on a computer all day, no offense to people who do that.
While I would say I call myself a farmer, I do think that is not true mostly because I’m a new farmer and putting that “new” in front of it is very important because I don’t want to appear like I have a bunch of knowledge.
I have 5 years, but farming is such a massive thing and so much knowledge you could have in your head at any given moment about any given thing and I haven’t scraped the iceberg on it.
There is some kind of disconnect, there may be some internal shit I have to work on.
I have people in my life that I would call a farmer no if, ands or buts, but I hesitate to call myself a farmer even though I’ve been working around the same time as these people. They just have more knowledge than me based on their experiences and they’ve been able to dedicate their whole time to it.
I would need more time before I could call myself a farmer.
I could get more knowledge and become a more dependable source to know what I’m talking about and have the experience to do something if I need to do it.
I’ll run into problems all the time and have no clue what to do about it and I’ll ask my managers and they will show me what to do.
Also my experience with the different kinds of land that there is and different kinds of farms is minuscule because I’ve only worked in Birmingham and Jasper, so I haven’t known what it’s like to farm in upstate New York or the west, midwest.
I only have experience in Alabama and that’s not enough (for me at least).
I’m big scared to move out of state to farm, but I’d like to do it.
I’ve been scared for a very long time, but somebody that I met from last season and my roommate Sam is really well traveled. Sam has knowledge on lots of different places and I’m always so amazed by her.
I aspire to be that free and willing to just travel.
She’s from New Jersey and she came down to fucking Jasper, Alabama to work on this farm and I find that cool and crazy and really bold.
So hopefully one day.